History of Circassians


The Adygheans (the people's own name for themselves is Adyghe) are an ancient native people of the Northwest Caucasus, better known in historical annals as Circassians (also Cherkess). An agricultural and cattle-breeding culture arose in the Northwest Caucasus in the early Bronze age. By 3000 B.C., the Dolmen culture, whose name comes from the distinctive megaliths used as grave markers, had arisen here and reached its peak; it lasted until the last quarter of the second millennium B.C. The area where the Caucasian dolmens are found is the ancestral home of the Adyghe-Abkhaz tribes. Today, there are five dolmen fields in the republic with about 200 whole and partly ruined dolmens.

The Maykop culture of the Kuban valley coexisted with the Dolmen culture. The first classical monuments of the Maykop culture in the form of large burial mounds (kurgans) containing splendid articles made of precious metals were discovered in the Kuban before the Revolution. They include the well-known kurgan excavated in Maykop in 1897 by Professor N.I. Veselovsky, which gave its name to the culture as whole. The settlements of Meshoko, Skala, Khadzhokh, and Yasenovaya Polyana are other well-known monuments of this period.

The first iron appeared here in the second millennium B.C. and led to major economic and social advances at the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 8th centuries B.C. The economic structure was represented by cattle-breeding, agriculture, metallurgy and metalworking, weaving, and spinning. This period is known in history as the Protomeotic.

The names of North Caucasian tribes, such as the Meots, Sinds, Akhei, Zikhs, and others that played a major role in the ethnogenesis of the Adyghe, first became known in about 1000 B.C. In Greek and Roman sources, they are referred to collectively as Meots, and in 1000 B.C., they occupied the eastern coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov and the Kuban valley.

The 5th century B.C. began with the rise of cities that became craft and trading centers in the lands of one of the Meotic tribes of Sinds. Intercourse with the Greek world, accelerated the process of formation of classes and states 7among the Sinds. By the end of the 5th century B.C., Sindika had been transformed into a real kingdom. Close political and economic ties were formed with the Bosporus state. Many scientists believe that the Spartacid dynasty that ruled the Bosporus for more than 150 years was Meotic (M.I. Artamonov, E.I. Krupnov) rather than Greek.

The 7th-6th centuries B.C. saw the beginning of widespread use of iron in the Northwest Caucasus, which led to the rapid development of productive forces that transformed the entire material culture and social life. By this time, the Meotic culture was thriving on the right bank of the Kuban, on the left banks of its tributaries to the northern slopes of the Caucasian range, and along the eastern shore of Lake Meota (the Sea of Azov). The Meots lived in farming settlements, and along with farming, stock-breeding, fishing, metallurgy and metalworking, and crafts (pottery, weaving, jewelry-making, tanning, woodworking, etc.) were also well developed.

The Meots' high level of material and spiritual culture and the influence of neighboring peoples on it are confirmed by the unique discoveries made during the excavation of kurgans near the village of Ulyap in Krasnogvardeysky District, which were first known as the Ulsk kurgans, but after a brilliant analysis by Professor A.M. Peskov in 1981-1982, were renamed the Ulyap kurgans. At the beginning of the Common Era, one of the coastal tribes, the Zikhs, appeared on the historical scene. Being in a more advantageous position than the steppe-dwelling Meats for a number of reasons, the Zikhs began to play an important role in the unification process. By the 6th century A.D., the neighboring tribes had united around the Zikhs to form the Zikh Union. Eighth-century authors refer to Zikhia as a sizable country on the eastern shore of the Black Sea resulting from consolidation of the tribes into a single Adyghe people. Two other unions, namely, the Kasog in the Transkuban region and the Abazg in the southeast, formed along with the Zikh Union.

In the 6th century A.D., Byzantine influence was increasing in the Northwest Caucasus. By this time the coastal Adyghe had converted to Christianity and a Zikh diocese directly under the Byzantine patriarch had been formed. Contemporary references to the Adyghe as the Zikhs and Kasogs give reason to believe that the single Adyghe union had split into the western and eastern Adyghe (Kabardians).

In 944, after the defeat of the Khazar Khanate by the Kievan prince Svyatoslav, the city of Tamatarkha became part of Rus under the name of Tmutarakan. The territory of the Tmutarakan principality included the Eastern Crimea and the Taman Peninsula, and among the inhabitants were Slavs, Adyghe, Greeks, and Alans.

The Russian Lavrentev Chronicle first mentions the Adyghe under the name of Kasogs in the 10th century. Kasogs were included in the retinue of the Tmutarakan prince Mstislav, and took part in the 11th -century campaigns against Yaroslav the Wise. With the weakening of the Kievan state, the Russian princes lost Tmutarakan at the end of the 11th century. The Kipchaks (Polovtsy) took Tmutarakan from Rus, and the Slavic population of the Northwest Caucasus merged with the Adyghe.

From the second half of the 13th century to almost the end of the 15th century, the Genoese, who had their own colonies of Matrega, Kopa, and Mapa in Adyghe lands, had a decisive influence on the cultural and historical development of the Adyghe. The population consisted of Italians, Greeks, and Adyghe.

The celebrated Silk Route passed through the territory of historical Cherkessia (Circassia), as shown by archaeological finds from the Moshchevaya Balka burial ground (7th-9th centuries) on the Bolshaya Laba River, Psebai District, and the Belorechensk kurgans (13th-15th centuries). In the 10th century, the Adyghe had already become a single nation. Anthropologically, the Adyghe belonged to the northwestern group of Pontic Europeans, and linguistically, to the Northwest Caucasian (Abkhazo-Adyghean) group of Caucasian languages. The formation of the Adyghe people over the millennia took place in close contact with the tribes of Western Asia, Greeks, Cimmerians, Scythians, and Sarmatians. The main Adyghe settlements were located in the northwestern foothills and plains of the lower reaches of the Kuban and on the east coast of the Black Sea from the mouth of the Don to Abkhazia. Adyghe society of that time can be described as early feudal, and farming was the leading economic sector. Cattle- and horse-breeding, fishing, and crafts were well developed. The finds at the Kolosovka (8th century) and Psekups (8th-9th centuries) burial grounds and the Belorechensk kurgans, among others, are outstanding examples of premedieval and medieval Adyghe culture.

The Mongol invasion changed the map of tribal settlements in the eastern and central areas of the Northern Caucasus. In 1238-1239, the Mongols captured all of the pre-Caucasian plains, and in the early 1240s, the state known as the Golden Horde had formed, whose southern borders extended to the Crimea and the foothills of the Caucasus range. Under these conditions and political circumstances, some of the Adyghe (Kabardians) migrated east to the edge of the Central pre-Caucasian plain, which in turn led to the division of the common language into western (Adyghean) and eastern (Kabardian) dialects and later formed the basis of the modern Adyghean and Kabardian languages. From about the 1240s onward, the word "Cherkess" appears in sources. The name Cherkess, which comes from the Turkic designation for the Adyghe, was adopted by other nations and became fixed in European and Eastern literature.

In the 17th century, the Adyghe who had separated from the Kabardians moved back west and settled in the area of the Upper Kuban. These were the so-called Besleneevtsy. At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, a second group joined them from Kabarda. As a result, the Adyghe were divided into three nations, the Adygheans, the Kabardians, and Circassians, although besides language, material and spiritual culture, and a common consciousness, the Adyghe shared a common territory.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, there was a thriving trade in Adyghe slaves on the slave markets of Middle Eastern countries, especially Egypt, where sultans acquired them as additions to their Mamluk guard. The influx of slaves allowed one of the Adyghe, Al-Malik-az-Zakhir Barkuk al Cherkesi, to seize power in Egypt and found the Circassian dynasty of Mamluks, which ruled Egypt and Syria from 1382 to 1517. The Mamluks finally disappeared from the Middle Eastern political arena in 1811. The Circassian Mamluks left a significant imprint on the history and culture of Egypt, Syria, and the entire Middle East. They repelled invasions of Crusaders, halted the onslaught of the conqueror Tamerlane, and greatly extended the boundaries of the Mamluk state. During the period of Circassian rule, architecture progressed significantly; irrigation systems were built; and poets, musicians, philosophers, and historians enjoyed special patronage.

The decline of Christianity among the Adyghe began at the end of the 15th century after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the disappearance of the Byzantine Empire from the world political map. Starting at the end of the 16th century, the Sunni branch of Islam was introduced among the Adyghe through the efforts of the Crimean Tatar khans and Turkish missionaries. This was accompanied by military expansion by the Crimean khans. (The Caucasian War of the 19th century and the way the Russian Empire conducted it had a decisive impact on the strengthening and final establishment of Islam in the Northwest Caucasus.) In the 16th century Russians representing imperial authority reached agreement with Kabardan princes who welcomed traders and military support against rivals. In 1561, Tsar Ivan the Terrible married Temryuk's daughter, a Kabardian princess Goshenai (baptized Maria). The marriage of Maria Temryukovna to Tsar Ivan the Terrible and her conversion to Orthodoxy symbolize the cooperative relations that existed at that time. Russian expansion always entailed some degree of missionary purpose--encouragement of the spread of Russian Orthodoxy, but religion was a secondary factor in Russian expansion into the North Caucasus. Kabarda, where the population was divided into clearly defined social classes, marked the beginning of a Russian technique of gaining predominance by co-opting the local aristocracy--the Kabardian princes, whose descendants became prominent among the Russian nobility. This approach was less effective with ethnic groups that had a more egalitarian social structure, such as the Chechens and the Ingush, many of the other Circassian tribes, and the peoples of Dagestan.

By the 18th century, the Adyghe occupied the territory from the mouth of the Kuban along the Black Sea coast to the Psou River and from the northern slopes of the Caucasian mountains to Ossetia; and in the first half of the 19th century, they inhabited extensive areas of the Black Sea coast and the Northern Caucasus. As Russia advanced southward, this territory shrank to 180.000 sq. km by the 1830s.

According to data of the Russian officer Novitsky, the Adyghe population in 1830 was 1.082.000, and ethnic subdivisions of the Adyghe were preserved, including the Shapsugh, Abadzekh, Natukhay, Temirgoy, Bzhedugh, Hatukay, Besleney, Egerukay, Makhosh, Adamie, Mamkheg, and Kabardey.

By the 1860s, as a result of the Caucasian War and forced deportation to the Ottoman Empire, only 5% of the Adyghe remained in their historical homeland. Ethnographers define the modern-day Adyghe people as a dispersed nation. More than 3 million Adyghe live in more than 50 countries, including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the United States, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Germany. After the end of the Caucasian War, the Northwest Caucasus was under military occupation until 1867, and the Adyghe population came under the jurisdiction of military authorities. On January 1, 1867, the military occupation finally ended and the Adyghe population became part of the general population of the newly formed Maykop, Ekaterinodar, and Batalpashinsk districts. On March 21, 1888, Alexander III approved a new statute setting up the administrations of Kuban and Tersk regions and Chernomorskaya Province, which abolished civil institutions and established a narrow Cossack military governing caste without the participation of the mountain peoples. In 1914-1917, the Adyghe took part in World War I in the Circassian regiment known as the "Wild Division." The Civil War resulted in another sizable migration of Adyghe to Turkey and Middle Eastern countries. The revival of the ancient Adyghe people as a nation did not begin until after the October Revolution, with the formation of the Circassian (Adyghean) Autonomous Region on July 21, 1922. In 1936, by order of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the capital of Adyghea was moved from Krasnodar to Maykop.

On October 5, 1991, the Adyghean people achieved real statehood when the Republic of Adyghea was proclaimed. The legal document On State Sovereignty of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Adyghea defined the place and role of Adyghea in a renewed Russia. Adyghea's new status as an independent subject of the Russian Federation was legalized by the RSFSR Supreme Soviet's approval of RSFSR Law N 1535-1 of July 3, 1991, On the Transformation of the Adyghean Autonomous Region into the Soviet Socialist Republic of Adyghea. In December 1991, elections were held to elect deputies to the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Adyghea, and the first parliament in Adyghea's history was formed. Aslan Alievich Dzharimov, the Republic's first president, was elected in January 1992. In March 1992, Adam Khuseinovich Tleuzh was elected the first chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Adyghea. In five years, Adyghea acquired all the attributes of statehood, beginning with state symbols and ending with the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Adygea and the formation of state governing bodies. The Constitution of the Republic of Adyghea was approved by the Legislative Assembly (Khase) on March 10, 1995.